Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

My background before becoming a location-independent freelance translator

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?


Unlike most of my posts, this one is not a general “how to” that I think everyone can also follow. It's my random story of the path I took to get to a great job; for those curious 🙂 This post does not have any useful information about finding work as a translator etc. It is purely background information for my next post which I will talk about my actual work itself. Feel free to skip this post if you aren't curious about the story!!

Most unlikely candidate: Language-stupid electronic engineer

There is no way that I pictured myself as a translator after I graduated from UCD as an Electronic Engineer. Until I figured out what holds us all back from really learning, I was a self-confessed idiot with languages. I had only ever studied German formally, and my exam results were always less than impressive. But my year in Valencia completely changed everything for me. I was exposed not just to Spanish, but to dozens of other cultures and languages through the Erasmus programme (even though I wasn't taking part in the programme myself). I had already decided after a short time that I wanted to speak several languages; not just Spanish. I promised all of my Erasmus friends that I would speak each of their languages one day, and despite receiving a lot of scepticism at the time, I'm not doing too badly in keeping that promise 🙂

I even found a cool job possibility to combine my undergraduate degree and new passion for languages. There is an intensive Masters in Conference Interpreting that I really wanted to study; it doesn't matter what your undergraduate degree is because you can interprete conferences for that speciality (medicine, law, technology etc.), and it takes just one academic year to finish it, and it's not that expensive. Best of all, the same course can be studied in different countries. I put it in the back of my mind for almost 4 years because first… I had to actually be able to speak the languages!!

More experience, qualifications and more languages

I initially worked as an engineer in Spain before teaching English, and after almost a year and a half since graduation with no relevant engineering experience I found a job with a cool company in Paris as an intern for 9 months. I didn't like Paris at all, but the job was fantastic and gave my CV a well needed boost. When I moved to Toulouse, I studied for and passed the DELF (which wasn't that hard; in retrospect I should have gone for the higher level DALF) to formally prove some competence in French.

Learning several other languages was great, but formalising your level for recognition is also important. So I went on to do the Spanish DELE (this time the highest level possible), and studied for the Italian CELI (but didn't have the time to take it). All of these diplomas are recognised world-wide, are inexpensive and do not require any particular course to be able to sit the actual exam.

Then the time came when I felt I was ready for the Masters! Out of all the places I could study for it, my only options for this particular Masters were London (too expensive and English speaking), Paris (don't like) and La Laguna in Spain. My Italian wasn't good enough to consider studying for it through that language, so all my hopes were for moving to Tenerife for a year! I thought that I had a pretty solid application, but to make it a little better I decided to work as a translator for a few months. Never something I actually wanted to do; I only wanted a little experience to improve my CV for the extremely competitive application procedure for the Interpretation Masters.

First and last job as an in-house translator

After lots of searching, I found a company in Italy that agreed to train me half-time as a translator for a poor wage and accepted me only because the other half-time I would teach English in their language school. I feel that I am a really good English teacher and after years of experience and excellent references it was almost impossible for me to not get any job I applied for as a teacher. Normally the wages would be pretty good, but I made the sacrifice this time for the translation training aspect of my work.

It was tough. They wanted me to learn quickly so that I would be a useful translator to the company before my contract ran out, so all texts I produced were scrutinised and unapologetically criticised. Translating isn't just a simple case of guessing a “pretty good” equivalent; you have to research the correct terminology and confirm it appears in that context elsewhere etc. I got to learn all of this and more, but instead of an academic environment, I had a stressful work one. Despite learning a lot, I hated the job; I had an incredible 3 hour commute on the train daily and would only get home around 11pm and get up before 6am to get the train on time.

Then I got some horrible news… La Laguna had changed their application procedure for that year (and only that year) and were not accepting any applications from those wishing to interprete from Spanish. Only to (i.e. only natives). I had a long and complicated time trying to get out of the work contract and reassess my situation. This was a huge disappointment, but I had to continue on and find another option.

I decided to continue my travels anyway, and applied for a working visa in Canada. Normally, us Irish are given working visas very quickly but I rushed off the application form and lied about currently residing in Ireland (which is crucial for acceptance). Note to self: when lying about being currently in Ireland, don't send the application form in a letter with Italian stamps on it and a big fat IRLANDA written as part of the address… Naturally, they turned me down, and I found this out after I had already arranged accommodation with some friends for the entire summer. I really wanted to go and my complete lack of money, or work, or future job prospects wasn't going to stop me!

That's when I considered Internet-based translation as a temporary solution for the summer… but more on that in the next post!! 🙂

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

Fluent in 3 Months Bootcamp Logo

Have a 15-minute conversation in your new language after 90 days